International Development, Community, and Environment


Really effective (for 15% of the men): Lessons in understanding and addressing user needs in climate services from Mali

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The design of effective climate services requires the identification of a problem that might be addressed through the provision of weather and climate information, and the design and delivery of actionable information to a set of appropriate users. The utility of weather and climate information for a given user is shaped not only by exposure to particular weather, climate, and market shocks and stresses, but also the sensitivity of that user’s livelihoods to particular shocks and stresses and whether or not their adaptive capacity includes the ability to use such information. Therefore, effective climate services are very place-, time-, and vulnerability-specific, and required careful social scientific investigation into user needs as part of the design process. Such investigation is also critical to the monitoring and evaluation of such projects, for they may lose their efficacy when applied to challenges or user communities other than those for which they were designed. This article uses the example of Mali’s agrometeorological advisory program to illustrate these points. This program, designed during a severe drought in the late 1970s and early 1980s, sought to address acute food insecurity by boosting food availability through yield increases. This design achieved its goals by targeting the users (senior men who owned their own agricultural equipment) who were most able to make rapid changes to the production of staple grains. It is only in the contemporary context of resilience programming and an increasing concern for climate change adaptation that the relatively small, highly gendered set of users able to engage with this climate service became a lens through which to view this program as a failure. The contemporary challenge for the program, and indeed any climate service aimed at addressing vulnerabilities produced by a variable, changing climate, lies in how it might remain relevant as our understanding of the dynamics of food security have shifted away from a focus on food availability, the weather- and climate-related stresses most important to agrarian populations shift with the changing climate, and our concerns for resilience demand that this program reach a much wider set of users and serve a broader set of needs than initially imagined.

Publication Title

Climate Risk Management

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climate services; vulnerability, users, gender, food security, adaptation, resilience, Mali


African Studies | Environmental Studies | International and Area Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology